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Posts about Parks and recreation

Positions harden in Graco easement impasse

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 12, 2015 - 1:55 PM

Both sides have buttressed their positions as they prepare for a meeting next week to see if an impasse can be resolved involving an easement for a riverside trail over land owned by Graco Minnesota Inc.

Representatives of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the city and Graco are scheduled to meet next week to try to resolve a situation in which Graco is insisting on buying part of a nearby piece of Park Board property before it grants an easement for a trail that has been scheduled for construction later this year. It's the first meeting involving all three parties in at least a year, Park Board President Liz Wielinski said.

The company faces a high bar in seeking to buy two acres of parkland on the north side of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge in northeast Minneapolis. The Park Board reached a $7.7 million purchase agreement for the 11-acre site in 2010 and plans to recreate as wildlife habitat an island that existed historically

"I don't sell parkland," said Wielinski, the area's commissioner.. There's also a high bar in the law.  Six of the nine commissioners must vote for a land sale for it to go ahead, and a district judge's approval is required in a proceeding in which any citizen can intervene. 

The company has offered a additional argument for why it wants to build corporate offices on a portion of nearby Park Board land that was purchased by the Park Board from Scherer lumber.

Although Graco has large amounts of open space on its campus of more than 20 acres, spokesman Bryce Hallowell said the company wants a strip of Scherer property to buffer the park from its factory and loading dock area. Hallowell said Graco is concerned that developing the Scherer property without a buffering strip of offices could create pressure from park users against Graco's operations.

"What do you think the pressure will be to do something with Graco?" he asked, describing trucks running past the park from the loading dock across the street. "Let's all work to make this the best park," Hallowell said. He said that Graco still sees the Park Board selling part of the Scherer property as a condition for granting an easement.

Graco's concern for a buffer was rejected by Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey. "I think that's silly. Nobody's pushing Graco out of there," Frey said. "They've been good neighbors. They made an agreement and they need to live up to it."

Moreover, Wielinski said, concept plans for the Scherer site already outline a building that would shield park users from Graco's closest operations. The idea is that this building would offer park would house recreation-related services and generate lease payments to help finance park operations.

Graco agreed to grant the trail easement in a 2000 redevelopment agreement with the city that allowed Graco to devote some of the taxes generated by its expansion to financing site improvements. Graco argues that commitment ended in 2009 when the city certified that Graco had completed "all building construction and other physical improvements" in the redevelopment agreement. The easement is listed as a public improvement in the agreement.

But the city's development agency asserted in an e-mail to the Star Tribune that it has not waived the easement requirement, although it didn't respond when asked for its reasoning. Graco agency met last Friday with development agency representatives, but not the Park Board, which met Tuesday with agency officials. The development agency didn't respond to an inquiry this week about whether progress was made at that meeting,

Graco's Hallowell said, "The dialog was welcome and constructive as we try to work toward an approach that is holistic on riverfront development." But the firm still wants to buy the Scherer buffer in exchange for the easement.       

One new factor Frey revealed this week is that the easement is also required under the conditional use permit the city granted Graco for its expansion. "That conditional use permit is still enforceable 150 percent," he said. "I'm confident we can work something out, but that doesn't mean we don't have some serious tools in our shed."

The Park Board already has voted to condemn Graco land for the easement if it doesn't;t get that permission through negotiations. But it also needs to weigh the legal cost of doing so, as well as the easement price that could be awarded by a court. Park commissioner John Erwin said he doesn't think that Minneapolis taxpayers should have to bear those costs. Erwin said he's asked Park Board legal advisors whether it would have a breach-of-contract case against Graco.

Graco needs to weigh the public beating it has taken from some northeast residents who charge that it reneged on a deal for an easement that was a sop to those who felt that its two-block-long factory just south of the Broadway Avenue Bridge was too close to the river.

The issue now has some additional time to play out. Park officials said they earlier faced a May 31 deadline under a $1 million federal trail grant for getting control of trail right of way. More recent information indicates that the project must be ready for bids by Sept. 30.    


MPCA notches fourth scrap area air incident

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 6, 2015 - 5:59 PM

A state air pollution monitor on the north Minneapolis riverfront has recorded its fourth incident of high levels of large particles in five months, even as the agency running it has yet to propose corrective action to area businesses for an earlier violation.

The latest violation of the state's large air particle standard was announced Friday and involved Feb. 23 reading.That follows earlier above-standard readings in October, November and January. Any two readings over a standard in a year constitute a violation.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said this week it still is investigating the violation last fall toward the goal of requiring businesses to institute corrective measures. Jeff Smith, director of the agency's industrial division, said that it has determined from the size of the particles that they came from within one-half mile.

Smith said earlier this week that the agency worked with the city and had narrowed its investigation to a half-dozen businesses near the monitor just south of Lowry Avenue N. He said they had been contacted for information about their activities near the monitor that might contribute to the violations. Then the agency will work with contributors on correcting their operations, Smith said.

The monitor is located in the midst of scrap and recycling yards that dominate the area south of Lowry. It monitors overall air conditions in the area rather than which industries contribute to them.

The agency began monitoring air quality in 2013. It followed the agency's decision to loosen an emissions permit for Northern Metal Recycling, which is across the street from the monitor, after a 2009 test showed that the company was violating the emissions permit it had then. The company collects, sorts, pulverizes  and ships scrap metals.

The decision to monitor also followed air modeling that indicated that particles released by area industries potentially exceed national air quality standards for fine particulates, which can be dangerous to breathe.

The monitor has found no violation of the more dangerous small particles to date, but the agency added large particle monitoring last fall and found a violation of the air-quality standard within weeks.

The agency said it can't comment further by law on its investigation until it is concluded. Environmental activist Alan Muller said he believes the Legislature should change the allow greater public input. That would allow those affected to comment on proposed enforcement actions before the agency makes a final decision, he said.

Traffic-calming on Olson? Been there, lost that

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 6, 2015 - 11:37 AM

Colleague Eric Roper this week told readers that Minneapolis officials are calling for changes to Olson Hwy. for the Bottineau light-rail line that would make it less hostile to people on foot.

But the city has been down this road before.

Fifteen years ago, the master plan for redeveloping the area of the old North Side housing projects called for much the same thing. According to City Hall habitues with long memories, the push to make the Olson corridor more friendly to foot traffic was deep-sixed by pro-car-commuting Republican state officials.

Here’s the description from the plan: “The proposed reconfiguration, with design features drawn from Summit Avenue in St. Paul, will widen the median and add curvature to the roadway. The intent is to slow traffic, create a formal green gateway to downtown, and create an address for the neighborhood.”

The idea was to make it easier for pedestrians to make it across the seven-lane roadway, to give them a more substantial refuge on the median, and to discourage traffic from exceeding the frequently broken 35 mile-an-hour speed limit. The 2000 plan also looked ahead to light-rail riders, saying that a wider median would allow easier implementation of rail transit.

What happened?  “There was a pushback from Republican legislators that represented places further west that they did not support that,” said Chuck Lutz, deputy director of the city’s development agency and the owner of one of City Hall’s best and longest memories. Republicans controlled the Minnesota House for the half-decade after the plan was adopted, as they do so this session. They had an ally in Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who doubled as transportation commissioner.

“She was not supportive at all of any kind of traffic-calming issues at that time,” Lutz said. He said he's gratified that taming Olosn has been resurrected. MPLS has reached out to Molnau and will update this post if she responds.

Much like Interstate 94, which wiped out the historically black Rondo area in St. Paul in the 1960s, the original construction of Olson after its namesake's death wiped out an area that represented the commercial heart of the North Side black community along 6th Avenue N. 

Here’s a longer description of what was proposed for Olson, which bisects the area where public housing was razed and new mixed-income housing was built, including replacement public housing:

"Olson Memorial Highway, passing in an east/west direction through the center of the Master Plan area, is being redesigned to create a formalized green gateway to downtown Minneapolis. As it exists today, the highway creates a barrier to pedestrian movement and encourages drivers to travel at speeds in excess of the posted 35 MPH speed limit. The proposed redesign, drawing on the gracious features of St. Paul’s Summit Avenue, incorporates some curvature into the road to reduce excessive speeds. It also eliminates excessive pavement (travel lane widths, shoulders and frontage roads) that is not needed to accommodate current and projected traffic volumes. The design intent incorporates new alignments to slow traffic, reduced pavement widths, trees within the median and along both sides of the road, pedestrian scale lights lining the north and south sides of the highway, and sidewalks. The redesigned roadway will contribute to a safer, enhanced pedestrian environment and will redefine this corridor as not just a space for vehicles but also as an address for the community. The redesign of this corridor will also permit future implementation of a light rail transit (LRT) line within the median island.”

Here's another view from the plan:

First downtown river parks plan in 30 years pending

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 5, 2015 - 10:50 AM

More than 30 years since a foundational plan for riverfront park development launched huge changes in the St. Anthony Falls area, a new plan takes stock of what’s undone, urges correcting what was done wrong and adds new ideas.

The plan given preliminary approval at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Wednesday night follows more than $1.2 billion in private investment and several thousand housing units that sprouted along the river since the last parks master plan in 1983. During that period, riverfront development has become de rigueur for big cities that have a river, especially as river-dependent industry has dwindled.

The board also gave final approval to new plans for Wirth Park and Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park.

The biggest undone tasks are creating better access to the river and completing an East Bank trail system that exists in some places only to disappear in others, according to Ted Tucker, chair of an advisory committee that developed the plan. Among the proposed new foot and bike access points are the Gateway area at the main Post Office, just downriver of the Third Avenue Bridge, and at 8th Avenue N. in the North Loop.

The plan also urges correcting conditions at Father Hennepin Bluffs Park at the east end of the Stone Arch Bridge to add rest rooms, create a performance lawn, and end the conflict between trails and a bluffside bandshell. It wants more public access to the park pavilion on Nicollet Island, now leased to a private concern.

Among the new ideas are adding a walkway across the river suspended below the 35W bridge, portages at the falls now that the lock is closing, and restoring through a former mill outlet a tunnel for pedestrians between Mill City Museum and the mill basin.

The ambitious plan would cost an estimated $66 million to complete, and covers the river between Plymouth Avenue and Bridge 9 at the University of Minnesota.  It comes at a time when the Park Board is trying to make headway on a master plan for the river above Plymouth that’s 15 years old and would cost several times as much.

Tucker said his group’s charge from the board was to set priorities for the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park, but it’s the board’s prerogative to decide among competing areas. “We already have a magnificent park,” he said. But as one exmaple of where an improvement is needed, he cited a need for better circulation patterns on either end of the Stone Arch Bridge, where people don’t know where to go.

Some urged the Park Board’s planning committee to think bigger. “This is a good beginning but we have an opportunity to do so much more,” said St. Anthony West resident Tony Hofstede. “Let’s do something exceptional that will be remembered for a hundred years,” said former politico Dan Cohen.

The group also recommended that the park’s name be changed to the less prosaic St. Anthony Falls Regional Park, which the board balked at doing immediately without more public input. Tucker's group also urged expanding the park’s boundaries, most notably moving the downriver border from the 35W bridge to the next crossing, Bridge 9.

That accomplishes two things, Tucker said. First, it joins the central park to the existing Mississippi Gorge Regional Park, making the riverfront seamless set of reigonal parks. The new areas also become eligible for regional development money if the Metro Council eventually approves the plan. Also proposed as additions to the regional park are part of the main Post Office site, and Star Tribune-owned land on West River Parkway.

Nearly half of the cost would come at the mill ruins area of the West Bank, where a Water Works Park has been proposed with new water features like a weeping wall and a horizontal fountain. Also recommended are two visitor centers with bathrooms -- a new one at Third Avenue and the lock and dam interpretive center -- only three blocks apart. Public agencies are discussing how to operate the lock's observation deck, which has been seasonal, once the Corps of Engineers stops locking operations in June.

Better trails for the East Bank are also proposed, ranging from a long-sought recreation trail connection between SE. Main Street and East River Road to more extensive trails deep below in the East Bank gorge. An unpaved trail up the east side of Nicollet Island would connect Main and Boom Island Park. There’s support for roomier trails paralleling the historic Main Street SE area, and also for continuing trails through a gap at Hennepin Avenue E.

The board also heard pushback from some residents of the Lake Hiawatha area over a proposal in that park’s plan to eliminate a swimming beach; two dozen have commented in opposition. Dozens of other residents have opposed a proposed new road connection on the southwest corner of Lake Nokomis, and the plan was modified for designate the area for further study.

(Photo above: Ruins of the Columbia Mill overlooking West River Parkway and the Third Avenue Bridge are recommended to become open-air play rooms as part of Water Works Park. Photo by Steve Brandt)

North Side to get another off-road bike-ped route

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 5, 2015 - 9:55 AM

The rebuilding of a major street crossing the middle of north Minneapolis will give the North Side another major east-west link for bikers and walkers.

The renovation this year of some portions of 26th Avenue N. and the reconstruction next year of others will leave a revamped and narrower street from Wirth Parkway to the Mississippi River. It will have eight-foot-wide bikeways and five-foot-wide sidewalks, with a six-foot boulevard separating bikers and walkers from the street.

Those changes will leave the street about 10 feet narrower from curb to curb than now, according to Jeff Handeland, a city engineer.

The off-street bike path will replace a crumbling on-street bike lane.  “It is really bad,” said Georgianna Yantos, a resident who lives a block off 26th.  “The road is so broken up. There are so many potholes.”

The new bike and walking paths also potentially open up new access to the river.  Representatives of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board are planning to contact owners of the Lafarge cement plant about whether they’d be willing to grant an easement over part of the plant’s riverfront property, according to Cliff Swenson, a Park Board manager.  That would allow 26th to connect with the West River Parkway recreational trails at Ole Olson Park. The Park Board would also need to negotiate a crossing of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, Swenson said.

The River First plan adopted by the Park Board in 2012 also calls for an overlook at the river end of 26th. The Park Board will first determine who owns that property, Swenson said.

Plans approved this week by the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee divide the project into two phases. This year’s work will start in the summer, and renovate the street between Wirth and W. Broadway Avenue, and also between Lyndale Avenue and N. 2nd St. That portion will be ground down extensively and repaved. The midsection of the route between Broadway and Lyndale, and also a short portion from 2nd to the river will get a more thorough reconstruction next year. Both will get extensive curb and gutter replacements, Handeland said, especially on the street’s north side where the bike path and boulevard replace space now occupied by the street.

Yantos said that area residents, who have been planning for years for a revamped street,  would have preferred more separation between the bike and walking trails, which will be side by side. One purpose behind the changes is to give more boulevard to the street to make it more pleasant for biking and walking.

Another North Side bike advocate, Alexis Pennie, said the city’s design falls short of resident aims, especially in separating the off-road paths, and crossing Washington Avenue N.

The entire project will cost an estimated $8.7 million, with this year’s work accounting for $3.4 million. Property owners will pay $680,000 in assessments for this year’s work, a standard practice for street improvements. The bulk of the cost will be paid by almost $2 million in city bonds that will be paid off by city taxpayers. State aid will cover the remaining $805,000.

The revamped trails will join several other North Side bike routes that span all or most of the city’s width. They include Plymouth, Lowry and Dowling avenues, and paths along Victory and Webber parkways.


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